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Bargain-hunting beyond call of duty

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Where's the best place to buy duty free? And what is actually worth buying?

Last time I looked into this, a couple of years ago, Auckland International Airport was as good as anywhere, so I tend to make most of my purchases there.

But I should also acknowledge that although I go overseas quite a lot, I buy little duty-free these days. Occasionally perfume for a daughter, a bottle of spirits or liqueur.

I've come to the conclusion that if you look around, you can buy most other things just as cheaply - sometimes even more cheaply - without the complications involved in duty-free shopping.

But is my parochial purchasing policy still sensible? And am I well advised in sticking to perfume and spirits there?

It's actually not easy to check this out. Firstly, because most duty-free shops don't list their prices online - ours are an honourable exception - so the only way to compare prices is by going and looking. Secondly, because there are so many product variations, makes, models and sizes, which are constantly changing, it is tricky to ensure you are comparing apples with apples.

There is the website, thedutyfreepriceguide.com, which sets out to compare prices at duty-free shops around the world, which sounds as though it could make the job easy.

For instance, I used it to ask where would be the cheapest place to buy 50ml of Chanel No 5 eau de toilette spray. The answer, a little to my surprise, was the much-loved Los Angeles International Airport at $68 (the site can convert prices into NZ dollars), closely followed by Hong Kong Airport at $69.

The most expensive of the places I asked about were inflight shopping with Qantas ($108) and British Airports ($95).

However, I wasn't able to get much closer to home than that because Air New Zealand wasn't listed and DFS, the main preferred operator at Auckland International Airport, seems to have a problem with selling Chanel.

Trying again I looked at a litre of Gordon's dry gin. According to The Duty Free Price Guide, the best places to buy this were Australian airports ($13) and Auckland ($14). That was quite gratifying but there wasn't much in it because the highest price listed, at British airports, was only a couple of bucks more ($18).

However, I became a bit nervous about the guide when I checked the websites of both DFS and rival Regency and found a litre of Gordon's priced not at $14 but $23.90. That's still quite a saving from the $38 price at Glengarry, but it does raise questions about the accuracy of The Duty Free Price Guide.

So I had another look at perfume prices, limiting myself to airports with prices online, and using 50ml of Bulgari Aqua Pour Homme as my example. That seems to be priced at $60 at Regency and $66 at DFS in Auckland compared with $72 at LA and $100 in Britain, so it does appear that the local operators continue to offer good value.

But I also found 50ml of Aqua Pour Homme online for $53 (perfumestore.co.nz) so I may direct family perfume purchases to the web in future.

The other point I wanted to check was whether I have been on the money in continuing to buy cameras at local stores rather than duty-free.

Using a Canon 80is as my test case, I found DFS and and Regency both offering prices of $399. But I then discovered that Camera & Camera in Queen St was quoting a price of $399 with a free printer included. And PriceSpy.co.nz advised that I could buy a Canon 80is online for as little as $382 (plus freight presumably).

The only overseas comparison I could get was at Sydney Airport - $380.

The message I got out of all this research is that, thanks to the steady reduction in import duties, there's less and less benefit from duty-free shopping, except when it comes to things such as spirits and tobacco which still carry high levels of excise duty.

And it also seems as though there is less and less difference between the prices at different airports ... which is no great surprise when you discover that duty-free shopping is increasingly provided by international chains.

The website asiaforvisitors.com tried to develop a duty-free benchmark index based on the price of Marlboro cigarettes, Chivas Regal whisky and Chanel No 5 perfume at eight major airports, including Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok.

It concluded, "The bottom line is that there's very little difference between prices at one place and another. Most of the differences can be put down to exchange rates and the effects of rounding. So ... you might as well buy it where it's most convenient."

- Jim Eagles

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